Brock weathers criticism en route to title shot
NEW YORK -- When the U.S. Olympic class of 2000 began to filter into the pro boxing ranks, several of the fighters from the team received considerable hype and huge signing bonuses.
Heavyweight Calvin Brock was not one of them.
Unloved and unwanted, Brock received no promotional offers and no hype. The college graduate could have gone back to a career in banking, but he wanted to fight.
When he finally did sign with now-defunct promoter America Presents, he got no bonus, no promises and little respect.
"When I first came out of the 2000 Olympics, I was looked at as the most unlikely to succeed in the pros," Brock said with a bit of incredulity in his voice.
He had flamed out in the opening round in Sydney, and there were questions about his work ethic, conditioning and power.
Six years later, however, Brock (29-0, 22 KOs) has proved the legion of naysayers wrong. He's one of promoter Main Events' most important fighters and has earned his status as a top contender.
He will challenge heavyweight titlist Wladimir Klitschko (46-3, 41 KOs) at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET), but even if Brock, 31, doesn't emerge with a title belt, he already has had more success than most thought he would, and certainly a lot more than some of his more celebrated Olympic teammates.
"I was one of the guys that they thought would win the gold medal, but you're only as good as your last match," Brock said. "I lost my last amateur boxing match, and it gave me a bad stigma. I shocked the world by making it this far, but I didn't shock myself."
When the Olympics ended, Brock watched as teammates Ricardo Williams Jr., Rocky Juarez and Jermain Taylor received tremendous attention and big money, although only Taylor, a bronze medalist, panned out after signing with promoter Lou DiBella for a seven-figure bonus.
Taylor went on to win the middleweight championship and is one of the most significant fighters in the sport.
Williams, who received a silver, also signed with DiBella for seven figures and made his pro debut with Taylor on HBO. But after compiling a disappointing 10-2 record, Williams went to prison for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and is perhaps the biggest bust in the history of Olympians who turned pro.
Juarez, also a silver medalist, signed with Main Events for seven figures, and he made his pro debut on Showtime. Although he is having a good career and twice fought Marco Antonio Barrera for the junior lightweight world title, Juarez has fallen considerably short of the massive hype he received coming into the pros.
The rest of the team members have been a mixed bag.
Jeff Lacy and Brian Viloria won and lost world titles, and remain contenders, and Jose Navarro twice fought for a world title but lost close matches each time.
Clarence Vinson, Dante Craig and David Jackson have accomplished little and remain almost anonymous.
Two team members have retired: Olanda Anderson, who went 2-0 in 2002 and never fought again, and Michael Bennett, who kept getting knocked out and was done after 14 fights.
Besides 2-0 Anderson, Brock is the only member of the 2000 team still without a blemish on his record (undefeated Taylor has a draw with Winky Wright). Brock is also the only undefeated top American heavyweight contender.
The Charlotte, N.C., native has come a long way since the Olympics, and even further from when he started boxing at age 12. He lost his first six amateur fights. After 12 amateur bouts, his record was a miserable 3-9.
"He just stayed with it. He kept going," said Calvance Brock, his father, manager and assistant trainer. "He had the dream of getting here even back then. He just never gave up on his dream. He kept pushing and pushing and pushing. We believed all along we would make it."
The Brocks' introduction to boxing was not smooth, as Calvin's early amateur record shows.
When Calvin became interested in boxing, Calvance knew little about the sport.
"I had no experience training fighters, so I went to the bookstore and bought books," he said. "I went to the library. I got tapes. I watched a lot of film. Little by little, we learned together."
By the time Brock's amateur career ended with an Olympic loss to eventual bronze medalist Paolo Vidoz, he had won multiple U.S. national amateur titles, made the Olympic team and compiled a record of 147-38.
Still, nobody wanted Brock after the Olympics.
"Calvin was motivated to prove everybody wrong, to say 'I told you so.' Everybody that turned their back on him, and didn't sign him, wished they had," Calvance Brock said. "He believed all the time he would make it, and a lot of people regret not giving him the opportunities."
One of Brock's chief critics was Teddy Atlas, the noted trainer and outspoken ESPN2 ringside analyst who called the 2000 Olympic boxing tournament for NBC.
Shortly after the games ended, Atlas was asked by USA Today to rank the 12 members of the team in order of how he viewed their pro potential.
As always, Atlas was brutally honest. He ranked Williams No. 1 and Brock dead last in the October 2000 article.
Of Brock, Atlas told the paper, "Some of the coaches privately said that he was one of the guys who rocked the boat a little bit. They felt his work ethic could have been better and he wasn't in the greatest shape. He didn't show he's a great puncher and looks like he'll have a difficult road as a pro."
The words stung Brock badly. Many in the boxing industry read Atlas' comments, and Brock believes they had a negative impact on his ability to land a promotional deal.
"I though it was quite ridiculous and ignorant of Teddy, as intelligent as he is and as good as an analyst as he is, to say those things," Brock said. "To label me before they gave me a chance, he didn't have that right, and, unfortunately, boxing people a lot of the time believe what they hear. People read the USA Today article with Teddy saying [head coach] Tom Mustin didn't think I trained hard and this stuff, that I wouldn't be a prospect, and that I basically would be a waste of money for any promoter to invest in.
"How could I be a five-time national champion and make the Olympics without hard work? Things don't come without hard work. I had to have the work ethic, and it got me to where I am now. So I made everybody out to be a liar and myself to be the truth. I was very offended."
Brock attributed the rap about his work ethic to a disagreement he had with his coaches about how much running he should do. His Team USA coaches wanted him to run much more than he normally did.
"I didn't like to run the way they ran," Brock said. "They wanted us to run six days a week. I didn't like that. You can't take a 12-man team and train everybody the same way."
Said Calvance Brock: "They took it as though Calvin was pampered, babied, didn't train hard, and they would try to push him beyond what is the right way for him to get ready for a fight. It was very unfair. There was a lot of friction between Calvin and Tom Mustin throughout the whole [Olympic] camp because he was making Calvin do what Calvin knew wasn't the right thing for him to do."
Calvance said his son was deeply affected by Atlas' words.
"In the beginning, he was extremely distraught, very down," he said. "You got one guy [Atlas] who they respect and may have some credibility in the industry, and everybody believes what he says and takes it as fact. We thought it was totally ridiculous."
Through the years, Atlas and Brock have crossed paths because some of Brock's fights were on ESPN2, including his biggest victory, a decision against Jameel McCline during which Brock had to get up from a knockdown to win.
Atlas and Brock have never discussed the comments, but have been cordial toward each other and say they respect each other.
"There was a silent understanding that he knew what I said, and that I knew that it affected him, and that he didn't agree with it," Atlas said.
Still, Atlas said he doesn't regret his remarks.
"I know that he was hurt by what I was being so candid about," he said. "I was making the judgment based on the information I had. I know he was affected by that, and I am up front about it. He's fighting for a world title now, and I had him rated so low. On some guys, I was accurate. Calvin is going to have his chance to have his day on Saturday."
Atlas said he gives Brock a lot of credit for proving him wrong.
"Any questions about his work ethic have obviously been addressed," Atlas said. "His conditioning has improved since turning pro. He's obviously put himself in a position to have a career and to do something very special on Saturday night. He's answered the critics. He wanted to prove things, and I was one of the people he wanted to prove things to. He was determined to make people wrong."
Atlas said that Brock always "acted like a gentleman" when they would see each other at fights.
"He dealt with it in a responsible way, and that speaks well of him," Atlas said. "I knew how Calvin felt about what I had said because of what people had told me he said off of that article. I was there to confront it. He dealt with it professionally. That has something to do with his upbringing."
It's not a surprise to hear that Brock acted so even-tempered when talking to Atlas. He did the same thing when he calmly confronted the USA Today writer in Las Vegas several years ago to talk to him about the article.
"I just want you to know that I will prove everyone wrong," Brock said at the time.
It's that sort of attitude that makes it easy to pull for Brock, Atlas said.
"He's definitely somebody I am rooting for and a person you are very happy to see in the position he is in now," Atlas said. "If he wins, I will be the first to be saying to myself, 'Congratulations, you earned it.' If he does it, he will have earned it. I will applaud."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
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